So, with the New Year coming on, it is somewhat natural to be thinking about how one might spend the upcoming trip around the Sun. And those thoughts have brought me to the Jonathan Coulton song that posits receiving some advice from the ghost of participatory journalist George Plimpton - a song with lyrics that always remind me of both the smallness and the importance of the days of a single person.
Granted, the specific advice is very much tied to a particular time and a particular set of places. After all, none of us can make friends with Robert F. Kennedy or Hunter S. Thompson, because they are dead. And even if boxing wasn't a mostly moribund sport, no one today could go see the Rumble in the Jungle, because that happened in 1974. And the advice is very much tied to a particular social and economic class - very few people move in social circles that would allow them to befriend a former President's widow or possess the financial resources to publish an entirely profitless magazine. The song, on its surface, is advice on how to live from the perspective of a fairly financially privileged white guy whose heyday was in the 1960s and 1970s as filtered through a moderately privileged white guy whose heyday started in the 2000s, and continues to the present.
But all of the suggestions in the song really are just window dressing for the real point. The song is not, ultimately, about wearing neckties and drinking cocktails. The real heart of the song is summed up in one line, "Do the things that really matter". You may not be able to get in a boxing ring with Archie Moore (him being dead probably being the greatest impediment) or hang out with Hemingway (once again, him being dead serving as the primary obstacle), but you can use your time to do things. Go places. See things. Experience things. Not everyone can finagle their way into being allowed to participate in the Detroit Lions' training camp like Plimpton did, but that shouldn't get in the way of living as much as you can. Our time is finite, and there are more things to experience than anyone could ever do in a single lifetime, so you have to pick which ones matter the most, and then try to do them while you can. Because when the end comes, you won't get another chance to do them.
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